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Friday
Jul071995

Wavering over flag burning law

I don’t want to see the flag burned because it would destroy a sacred national symbol.

Besides, flag burning is a very one-dimensional way to express one’s opposition to something. Eliminating a flag doesn’t really contribute to the discussion of issues. It’s simply playing with our emotions. Protesting that way seems to be a shallow, rash, desperate act by someone who is merely seeking attention.

On the other hand, I’m not keen on seeing Congress and the states pass a Constitutional amendment banning flag burning because it would destroy some of our nation’s sacred freedoms.

Besides, banning flag burning is a very one-dimensional way to express one’s patriotism. Criminalizing this act doesn’t really contribute to the discussion of issues. It’s simply playing with our emotions. Banning flag burning seems to be a shallow, rash, desperate act by politicians who are merely seeking attention.

Personally, I find very offensive the sight of shirtless, out-of-shape men doing yard work. But I don’t propose passing a law against this. I don’t want to deny these men their freedom of expression. But I do my part to battle the spread of recklessly topless men by speaking out and by wearing at least one shirt myself while doing yard work (sometimes two or three, sometimes a parka).

Someday, I hope to launch a program to fight this scourge. There will be vans touring residential streets on Saturday afternoons, tossing T-shirts (size XXXL) to the “needy,” shirting the shirtless and beautifying neighborhoods.

This program must gain the respect of people to be effective; it will never work if lawmakers simply make unsightly, topless male yard work illegal. Respect must be continually earned, not legislated. The same goes for the flag. I’m not going to respect the flag simply because it’s the law; but I will respect it if it has earned my respect.

And it has.

Incidentally, the only time I saw flags burned, they were being lighted by patriotic war veterans. They had hundreds of tattered flags they put into garbage cans and incinerated as flames lapped into the air and solemn onlookers watched. This wasn’t a protest. They were properly disposing worn-out flags. As a reporter covering the ceremony, I asked a participant what the difference was between them and a protester burning a flag.

He told me that they were following proper patriotic protocol — prayers beforehand and apparently profound, loving thoughts of country throughout.

Still, the vets and the protesters obtained the same result — charred flag ashes. The only difference between the two groups was their thoughts as they watched the flags burn. But couldn’t a protester caught breaking the law by burning flags claim he, too, was properly disposing them?

Flag burners are going to find loopholes like this. In fact, I’d bet any laws against flag desecration attract wise guys who want to test the legal limits. For example, there’s the whole question of what exactly is a flag. Would stars-and-stripes bathing suits, running shorts, shirts and other generally tasteless products like these be considered flags? Experts say flags will likely be defined as anything that can be raised up a flagpole.

So instead of burning an actual flag, protesters will burn something that looks like a flag, such as a package of flag napkins or a star-spangled spittoon. He wouldn’t be breaking the law, but would succeed in destroying the symbol.

And what about those patriotic Fourth of July fireworks? I’ve seen ground displays featuring flags bursting forth in a blaze of fire. A stirring sight, but wouldn’t it be illegal since it is a burning flag?

And what about those guys who loved their country so much that they tattooed the flag on their chests? Let’s say, for example, that years later, through poor exercise and diet, that now-faded emblem is lumpy and misshapen. Isn’t that desecration of the flag? And further, let’s say this guy decides to do yard work on a hot, sunny day and inevitably removes his shirt. Gradually, the old red, white and blue becomes red, red and blue and begins peeling. Wouldn’t that second-degree burning of the flag be against the law?

With this in mind, maybe Congress should join my cause to fight against recklessly topless men. Perhaps they can do two amendments at once — one to ban the burning of the flag and another to shirt the shirtless and thus, ban the burning of the flab.

I hope both are put off indefinitely. Long may they be waived.

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